As centers of economic activity, special economic zones are a crucial development tool for nations. A new global alliance could help amplify SEZ voices alongside a push to modernize the zones.
The future establishment of a global alliance of special economic zones (SEZs) was tabled this week at UNCTAD’s 7th World Investment Forum amid recognition that the zones are critical for economic development but need to adapt to keep pace with a changing climate, digital transformation and other factors influencing their viability.
Initial steps toward the founding of GASEZ (Global Alliance of Special Economic Zones) were taken today by special economic zones associations from across the globe.
The alliance will enhance global networking to facilitate trade and investment promotion, spur collective policy advocacy for SEZs, and support programmes for the exchange of best practices and modernization of the zones.
SEZs are an instrument widely used to stimulate growth, create jobs, promote exports, diversify economies, and build productive capacity.
“SEZs are faced with a myriad of challenges and opportunities arising from the triple mega-drivers: the new industrial revolution, the sustainability imperative and the realignment of global economic governance,” said James Zhan, UNCTAD investment and enterprise director.
“Mobilizing global support for SEZs and their endeavour to attract investment for sustainable development requires a concerted effort by the SEZ community. This alliance now provides this space,” he said.
Tracking for SEZ success
It is also the reason this year’s investment forum dedicated a specific track to SEZs. The track explored SDG Model Zones (in collaboration with UNIDO), decent work in Africa (jointly with ILO), facilitating the SEZ-city link (in partnership with UN-Habitat), Science Parks and Areas of Innovation Models (in partnership with IASP), bringing together different stakeholders to discuss investment in sustainable and resilient recovery.
This week UNCTAD also officially launched a Handbook on Special Economic Zones in Africa: Towards Economic Diversification across the Continent.
It examines trends in African SEZs, scrutinizes best practices, policy recommendations, and serves as a foundation for technical cooperation in the development of sound policy guidelines for the development of more effective, resilient and sustainable SEZs in Africa.
The handbook also focuses on the opportunities and challenges in the context of the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), and the role that SEZs play in this process, and was prepared with the support of GIZ (the German Corporation for International Cooperation),
Analyzing economic zones
Over the past three decades, UNCTAD has provided governments with SEZ-related policy advice and advisory services.
UNCTAD’s 2019 World Investment Report also dedicated a special chapter to a global review of SEZs.
This review assessed the impact of 6,000 SEZs as policy instruments and examined their potential contributions to sustainable development at the national and global level.
Joining the initiative for the future establishment of a global alliance were: the World Free Zones Organization (WFZO), the World Free and Special Economic Zones Federation (FEMOZA); the Africa Economic Zones Organization (AEZO); the Free Trade Zones Association of the Americas (AFZA); the International Association of Science Parks (IASP); the National Association of Foreign-Trade Zones (NAFTZ) from the United States; the Association of Clusters, Technology Parks and SEZs of Russia; and the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA).
The UNCTAD World Investment Forum is the largest global platform for investment and development. It was established in 2008 and over the past decade has made a significant contribution to investment-for-development policymaking.